About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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« Hang On, Folks. Things Are Getting Worse | Main | The New York Times, Big in La Crosse. Or Maybe Not »

July 31, 2008


Howard Owens

Credit where credit's due department: Bob Cauthorn was singing the "go after ma and pops online" song more than a decade ago.


Comes now the U.S. government reporting that 2nd quarter economic growth was actually up, and that the statistics did not reflect a recession that everyone predicted was here. So how do we explain those dreary 2nd quarter reports from the newspaper industry? Was the slow growth registered in the GNP figures amplified into a recession for the newspaper division of the economy? Or are these just preliminary GNP figures we should not pay that much attention to because they will be adjusted down later?
Or is there something more fundamental shifting here? I think the latter, and that the steps newspapers are taking are actually contributing to their problems, dragging down morale and resulting in less compelling content. Look at all the wasted energy going into layoffs and redesigns (and it not just TRB but MNI is quietly doing redesign as well and has a new Sacramento Bee to prove it). Look at the Chicago Tribune project, which started in June with three committees looking at redesign composed of 38 high-level Chicago Tribune execs. There is a steering committee composed of 13, a "news group" of 14 more, and a features group of 11. They are to unveil their result in September. I have to ask who is putting out the Chicago Tribune during these months of committee planning, markups and meetings? If I were Sam Zell I might conclude the newspaper doesn't need these 38 salaries after the redesign is done.
The layoffs also have been dragged out interminably. Ok, execs have to cut carefully, but imagine what it must like to be in the L.A. Times newsroom all these past weeks as you know your future is under discussion behind closed doors. I think the WPO lost a lot of spirit with its cuts, although I can't devise a way to measure that.
Finally, the result of the cutbacks is less coverage, which means fewer fresh stories and fewer new items for Web pages. The value of the NYT Web site is the variety of stories they put up each day, and the depth. Some of other Metro papers look like they have been bombed. Take a look at Modesto, Miami or the N&O to see what I mean.

Brad Stertz

Outstanding post. And yes, this isn't new advice. It's astounding how resistant newspaper companies are to drilling for revenue in just about the only untapped ad reserve left to them. More alarming is the wasted opportunities. The Loudoun plan should have worked exactly to your point. The execution wasn't focused to make it work for the audience or advertisers, is my impression. So it became yet another lab experiment headed nowhere.

Beth Lawton, NAA

Great post, Mark. We've actually found a number of newspapers that are willing to bring in small, local businesses through solid (online, of course) directory and user-review building strategies. The Boston Globe, The Journal World and Bakersfield, to name a few. So it doesn't seem all is lost in this area, and I think your advice is solid.

On a semi-related note, Peter Krasilovsky weighed in for us on the WSJ article (see the Digital Edge blog at www.naa.org/digitaledge for more) and mentioned this: "Ultimately, we see that newspapers have strong opportunities to enter these new areas of businesses and expect to see a great deal of new activity in this field. It will go beyond building a few vertical directories. The challenge, as the WSJ article correctly points out, is to get their sales and support activity to scale."

Basil Berntsen

The reality is that the internet is just a better media for this type of information. It doesn't have the large overhead of printing presses and sales reps, so a company like mine (Brownbook.net) can afford to charge almost nothing.


As everyone knows by now, video is very exciting. I think in the next few years people will discover that video is appropriate for certain areas of the consumer market, right now it seems like everyone wants to use video for everything. I think the small business arena will benefit the most from video which is pretty much the thesis behind Jippidy.com

Stan Gauss

It comes down to 2 things.

1. Newspapers need to do a better job selling the power of their audience and get away from the product of the week.

2. To effectively sell the longtail they are really going to need to understand how to create winning sales plans for doctors, lawyers, plumbers and such.

Getting the business to scale is definitely an issue but before they get to that point they need to understand the business.


NYTimes catches up with the industry misery, as you have been reporting for some time:

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